Hope part 3 (the end of the sermon)

Sometimes I can see is that when my kids  are unexpectedly disappointed, I have this tendency to want to make it right.  Perhaps they had been counting on something great that falls through.  Perhaps they have gone through some terrible experience that they are trying to get past.  Which ever it is,   when I see their little faces begin to fall, I have this instinct to say,

“It’s going to be o.k.  We’ll make it all right.”

This week, Nick had a spinal tap.  We went to see Percy Jackson.

And inevitably, my very next thought is, “Crap, Jeff.    Just how are you going to do that?”

And in truth, sometimes I pull it off.  Other times, I think if you asked my lovely children, “Was it worth it?  Did dad make it o.k?”

They’d answer you, “Well, he distracted me.  I didn’t think about what I was supposed to have… But really, I wish I’d been able to do the cool thing we were planning on.  I wish I had not gone through the terrible experiences that I did.”

Somewhere, deep inside, we can think that God is like us parents.  Making it up as he goes, settling for distracting us from the pain we experience in this life.

As Christians, we have an important set of questions to ask.

Did Adam ruin it for us for eternity?  Is the current plan just a consolation prize, like getting the home version of a game show you’re about to be kicked off?

Sometimes we act like the answer to all these questions is yes.   We look at what we can see—the way we do things as parents—and we rob ourselves of hope.

The thing is, we’re limited.  We’re limited in how fully and accurately we can see.  When we presume that we can see the fullness of what we’re hoping for, we are short changing ourselves.  When we delude ourselves into thinking we know just what it’s going to be like, our imaginations can’t help but fall short of the glory that awaits us.     We can call it salvation, we can call it heaven.  We can come up with all the most wonderful sounding words we want.  But it doesn’t how nice the names are.

When we have an impoverished idea, calling it by a fancy name doesn’t change it.

I could go steal the sign for a nice, expensive restaurant.  I could climb up to the top of a McDonald’s sign, and nail the restaurant sign in place over the McDonald’s sign.

I could call McDonald’s by the fancy restaurant name.  But at some point, I’m going to get inside, and realize that I’ve got options like the dollar menu and chicken mcnuggets.

Paul makes it clear that Jesus is not only how we get there, but He is also our destination.  Paul says that the glory is going to be revealed not to us, but in us.  At least in this passage, he says that  the amazing thing won’t be so much  where we are—it will be what we are.

We can’t see what this will be like.  But we can hope for it.

My hope is in the idea that Adam didn’t ruin it for eternity.

My hope is in the idea that the current plan is not a consolation prize.

My hope is in the idea that God is not rushing around, trying to create a distraction for all the pains we experience in this life.

The recent disaster in Haiti is fresh in lots of our minds.  The reason I’m speaking today is because Pastor Marty is with a team of a few other men from our church.  They’re surveying…

One of the things I’ve noticed, chatting with Pastor Marty and Scott, is that they are really joyfuy about this opportunity.  Scott facebooked his countdown… only ___ more days till I leave for Haiti.  I don’t think I’d ever seen a facebook status update from Scott.  But there it was, amid mine and others complaining about the snow, or updating everybody about how their farm, fish, or mafia are doing: Scott is going to this place not with this grim sense of determination, but with a joy.

When somebody has a surprising emotional reaction, it’s natural to wonder, “Well, do they get it?  Maybe their just deluded.  Maybe they don’t understand.”

Scott told me a story about this place that sticks with me and I think demonstrates that he has a better awareness than I do of what’s going on.  The children in this part of the world often come down with a parasite, a worm.  Doctors were at first puzzled.  After some investigation, they found that the parents had this practice of making cookies out of the dirt itself to fill their childrens bellys, so that hunger might be a little less of an issue in their lives.  Sometimes, the worms ended up in the dirt.  And the dirt ended up in their bellys.  Scott clearly knows what’s going on?  So why is he acting like a guy headed to Hawaii, not Haiti?

I would suggest that Scott’s awareness of the end of the story is part of  what shapes his behavior within that story.  And there is a fascinating thing going on here.  Because once we know what kind of story we live in, we begin to act and live in a way that makes our present a little bit more like our future hope.

Scott and the rest of them might do so amazing work.  But I’m not suggesting that they can bring about heaven on earth, or make our future come any faster.  What I’m saying is, once we know how things are supposed to be, once we know how they are going to be, we take these little steps to make our present world a little better, a little more-liveable, a little more heaven-like.  A little bit of the glory in them is woken up.  And this glory wakes up the people around them.

I’ve brought some pictures to share.  There is a group that’s been working with this village for years.  They’ve arranged a co-op, and Scott and company might be working on the place where they bake their bread.

More than this, it seems like this effect works in both directions.  It seems like it’s a feedback loop.  We can motivated by our future hope to make the world a better place.  But also, as we work to make the world a better place, as we experience heaven on Earth, we go increasingly inspired to increase our good works.

Sometimes, as we work on the world we began this process of redeeming ourselves   Humans weren’t meant to suffer Earth quakes.  We weren’t meant to eat dirt merely to fill our bellies.  As we work on fighting these terrible things, we become better, more complete people.

And so do the people we’re serving.  That’s the amazing thing about these tiny glimpses of heaven on earth.  They gave us something concrete to put our hope in.  Whether we have a hand in providing it, or whether we’re served by it, these acts of mercy whet our apetite and remind us that our hope is in something real.

Hoping doesn’t mean that we’re given nothing to work with.  If we had no ideas at all, there wouldn’t be enough to hope in.  We’re not given a full picture.  But scripture gives these tantalizing little glimpses, and these amazing promises.  I’d like to spend some time talking about these.

The bible tells us that there will be no more tears in the next world.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

I can imagine what it will be like, I think if there is no more death.  I can imagine what it would be like for us not to cry anymore about our present.  But there will be no more mourning.  When Jesus wipes our tears away, there will be no more mourning.

I can’t imagine what kind of ending is going to cause me to look back at child prostitution, starvation, AIDS, homelessness, slavery, cancer, racism, cowardice, selfishness, genocide…  I can’t imagine what will happen to make my private and our public pains, universal evils and individuals sins… I can’t imagine what will give me cause to not even mourn these thing.  But we’re told that it will be o.k. and better than o.k.  This pain won’t be covered up.  It won’t be balanced out.

I think it’s almost impossible to overstate the fullness of those words, “the old order of things has passed away.”  We’re not talking about the surface.  The change will be as deep as things can go.

I can’t see it yet.  But I can hope for it.  And I do.

Revelations, as you probably know, is the last book of the bible.  There’s so much language reminiscent of Genesis.  There are so many times and places that we’re promised an advanced version of the things that Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden.  Where Adam and Eve had a garden to tend, a garden to spend time with God in, in Revelations we are promised a city to tend and to spend time with God in.  Where Genesis spoke of a single tree of life, Revelations speaks of more than one tree of life, with twelve crops of fruit to be used for the healing of the nations.

God had a plan in mind for Adam and Eve.  He is  immortal and infinite in power and wisdom.  I can see how his plan’s might have been delayed for humanity because of free will.  But it  seems a little strange to suggest that a couple knuckleheaded humans and a snake could derail the ending God had in mind for us.  I don’t think it’s overly speculative to suggest that the destination we are headed for is precisely the one Adam began working toward.  I don’t think it’s overly speculative to say that the city described in Revleations is exactly the one that Adam and Eve or there decendents would have ended at, even if they hadn’t listened to the snake.  My hope is that we’re not headed to an alternate destination, the second-best, the consolation prize.  My hope is that this is exactly where we were intended to be, all the way along.

A few months back I ended up  in Providence with our good friends, the Mcguinesses.  We spent the morning at the Providence Place Mall.  We were headed to this amazing place called Fire and Ice for dinner.

It’s this buffet.  A super-charged, over the top, Mongolian style buffet.  There is tray after tray of meat.  Not just the obvious meats that you’d see at a place like this, shaved chicken and beef.  There is fish, and squid, and lamb, and turkey.  There are hamburger patties and hot dogs.   And there are trimmings from every where you can imagine: Italian-style and Asian style pastas.  Sprouts and peppers and onions.  Hamburger rolls and tortillas and rice and bok choice and cilantro and barbecue sauce and mongolion

sauces and Japanese Sauces and Indian Sauces.

You bring the food to this enmorous drum-shaped over where they cook at all up.  And you eat in this décor that seems like it’s out of Pee Wee’s Play house…

If my kids had known, truly known the ending we had in store for them, it would have changed the way they spent that day.  They could have waited, they would have waited, and they would have done it joyfully, in anticipation of the great feast that awaited them.

Our kids had never been there.  We kept trying to describe the place.  But our words?

They simply couldn’t do the place justice.  The kids thought back, to what they could see, instead of hoping that the future might be better than the past.

And so they got whiny and hungry.  There you’re kids, and you hate to see them

hungry… and you probably know how it is.  Part of you wants to just draw a line in the sand, and say “No more food!”  But there’s this jiminy cricket voice babbling in your ear that you’re a rotten person, and your poor flesh and blood are starving to death.

So there were some candy bars, some of those sugar-coated pretzels, sodas, and ice cream

and stuff.

If the kids had a hope in the future, instead of just seeing the past, there actions in the

present, in the mall, would have been different.  They would have been happy to build up an appetite.

You know, as I prepared to speak today, I almost missed something.

It wasn’t until I put together all the pictures that I was struck, hard, by the disconnect.

I am so blessed that it’s a challenge for me when my kids are eating pretzels, ice cream, and soda, because they’re going to be having really good food later.  Somebody else’s  parents have to feed them dirt, the kids who end up with worms in their bellys… They occupy the same world as me and my kids, where I get to make an illustration out of the fact that I fed my kids candy and pretzels before they go to a place where they can literally eat as much as they want.

This disconnect gives me pause.  It makes me so thankful for the opportunities I have.  It makes me so sad that things are not more fair.  I didn’t want to simply ignore this big, striking thing.  After sitting with this tension for a little bit, I decided that this doesn’t mean that we should feel ashamed of our own opportunities to feast.

Instead, lets use the glimpses we have, these little tiny foretastes, to spur us onward.  Let’s remind ourselves of the end of the story we’re living in, let’s remind ourselves of what kind of story it is, and what kind of characters inhabit it.

But this chasm also illustrates my point.  The chasm between Haiti and Providence Rhode Island is not wider than the chasm between what the life we live and the hope we have for the future.

Today, you may know that we have a little feast of our own prepared.   In some small way, slowing down and taking time to connect, sharing with each other, savoring the foods God has put in our life, all these are a little foretaste of what our hope is in, too.

Before we pray _____ will say a little more about what we’re going to do and why we’re going to do it.   But right now, I’d like to pray…

A great feast awaits us.  The ways that we behave here and now will be impacted based on how much we grab hold of this reality.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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